Donald E. McCaslin
1926 - 2020
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Donald E. McCaslin
Dec. 13, 1926 ~ July 16, 2020
Resident of Capitola
Donald Emmitt McCaslin passed away peacefully at home in Capitola, California, with his family by his bedside on Thursday, July 16 that the age of 93. Donald was born on December 13, 1926, in Tacoma, Washington. He was the son of Donald Everett McCaslin and Lula Bishop, He grew up in San Jose, California, and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1944. He went on to study at San Jose State College. While at San Jose State, Don was a standout basketball player on the Spartan Varsity team for 3 seasons and helped the team rank in the top 20 National Division a first for the Spartans. Don also enjoyed playing jazz piano for dances and sororities. His college term was interrupted mid-way as he enlisted in the merchant marines before the end of WWII.
After completing his college degree, Don taught English for the Fremont and Irvington school districts in the East bay area for over 15 years. He spent nights and weekends playing music around the Bay Area. Don eventually left the teaching profession to move to Santa Cruz and pursue music full time. Though Don might have described his main instrument as the piano, many will remember Don with his mallets in front of a vibraphone.
In 1973, Don assembled his group "Warmth," and began a long-standing engagement at the Cooper House in Downtown Santa Cruz. In naming his band, he was inspired by Spanish author, Miguel de Unamuno, and therefore Don agreed that "what's needed in life is not light but warmth!"
At times playing as many as 6 days a week and more than one gig a day, Don was a consistent force on the local jazz scene employing scores of local musicians. After the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, the Cooper House was demolished and Don moved the group around the corner to the Copper Street Café. From there, the band migrated once again, this time to the Wharf House in Capitola. Don, dubbed "The Jazz Wizard" by a local journalist, also had a longstanding engagement at the 25/25 Restaurant (Soquel) owned by the great saxophonist Frank Leal.
Later in his career, Don formed "The Incredible Jazz Geezers." Don was fond of saying that musicians interested in joining the band must be at least 70 years old and know 2,000 jazz standards. Until as recently as February 2020, Don and his fellow "geezers" played weekly at Severino's in Aptos, to an avid group of local fans.
Throughout his life, Don had a great affinity for the Great American Songbook; he knew the music and lyrics to countless songs and took great joy in both hearing and performing his favorites. Don was a fan of Lord Buckley and in the 1980's and early 90's staged a series of Be-Bop dramas that featured many local musicians as well as his lifelong friend, the actor Simon Kelly.
Don's life in music had an enduring effect on the music scene in Santa Cruz as many young musicians received invaluable experience on the bandstand with his groups, including his son Donny who went on to a distinguished career as a jazz saxophonist. Don's music brought great joy to many people who returned time and time again over the years to see his groups.
In between gigs, you might have found Don cruising around in his cream-colored Volkswagon bus (aka "home") or heading out to Lake Del Valle, Silver Lake and Hope Valley, to camp and fish with his son Matt, and later with his daughter, Jean and grandson Nick, or canoeing at Lake Concow with his daughters Jean and Collette. When his son Donny, returned to Santa Cruz on holidays, he and Don would split their time between the bandstand and the basketball court. Don and his youngest child Collette, were regulars at the Capitola Book Café, where Collette was often on the receiving end of one of Don's history lectures, though she was always holding her own.
In addition to jazz, Don enjoyed holding forth on his other great loves- his family, literature, the San Francisco 49ers and his beloved Golden State Warriors. To be in Don's presence was to be regaled with fantastic tales of imagined creatures and adventures, and, if you were lucky, to receive on of Don's (in)famous nicknames.
Don was a devoted father and took great joy in the lives of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He is survived by his daughters Jean Chao (Bernardo Chao) of Corralitos, California and Collette McCaslin Repke (Aaron Repke) of Richmond, California; sons Matthew McCaslin (Erin McCaslin) of Santa Cruz and Donny McCaslin (Sarah McCaslin) of Brooklyn, New York; his grandchildren, Brooke Bond (John Bond) and Devon Austin (Jordan Austin), Nick Chao, and Claire and Henry McCaslin; and his great grandchildren, Weston and Dakota Bond, and Zoey Austin, who all love him and miss him greatly.


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Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Jul. 19, 2020.
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Memories & Condolences
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26 entries
October 6, 2020
May God bless you and your family. He was a very good friend of mine. I used to love to go out to the Capitola
Wharf on Sundays and hear Don and his band play and dance to his music. We'd meet for coffee at Peets and down at Seacliff now and then when he drove down there in his van to have lunch. I also enjoyed going to Severinos on Thursday evenings to hear him play and dance the night away. Many times we visited after his gigs over a glass of vino. I will miss him dearly. He was such a beautiful soul and talented musician who brought so much joy to others. Love you Don!
JOAN Wiseman Taketa
Friend
August 13, 2020
I was lucky enough to spend 7 years playing music with Don. He was an inspiration and a teacher to me. The obstacles one faces in the pursuit of music can be overwhelming. Don stayed true to his art and never gave up. He was someone for all musicians to admire and look up to. Bravo Don McCaslin.
Frank Kohl
Friend
August 3, 2020
Gin & Beth
Acquaintance
July 27, 2020
Don was VERY good to me & my daughter & granddaughter, especially during our years of dating. I treasure the things he taught me about chords, songs, & music in general...& how to take apart & carry his precious vibes.. He set a fine example regarding staying focused on the things you love!. Sending you LOVE & Gratitude for sharing this season of your life, Don.
She'aShaunna Egling
Friend
July 24, 2020
I am thinking about you, Don, and all the great days we spent at Lincoln High School and San Jose State. You, Allan Ferguson and myself(vocalist) entertained during high school and during the later 40's in college.
June 13, 2019 was the last time we saw each other at Severino's.
Precious love to Donny Jr. and the rest of the family!
Marjorie Kirkpatrick Fawcett
Friend
July 22, 2020
For any musician living in Santa Cruz, or just passing through, sitting-in with Don McCaslin's Warmth at the Cooper House was a rite of passage. RIP Don, you were (are) the best of what Santa Cruz is all about!
Kurt Brinkmeyer
Acquaintance
July 22, 2020
I was one of the young musicians who learned from Don at the Cooper House. When one of us would play a coherent solo, Don would often look up, smile, and say, "You got that one."
Dale Mills
Student
July 21, 2020
My dad Jim Lewis sang with Don for many years. What a sight it was to watch them play at the Cooper House. And what a blessing it was to reconnect with him after 24 years at Severino's. I tried to trick him, but he made me and said "I know you! You look like your dad." Lol. Don, you are the best and we love you. Thank you for the memories.
Myisha Lewis
Friend
July 20, 2020
So enjoyed you and the group at the Cooper House.
Mike and Sharon Richardson
Acquaintance
July 19, 2020
One of the lasting memories of the Best of Santa Cruz will be sitting outside the Cooper House eating great food from the Crepe Place and listening to Don and Warmth He will be greatly missed
LynnBJ
Acquaintance
July 19, 2020
A wondrous, gentle spirit. A smile comes to my face when I recall the sound of vibes floating down Pacific Garden Mall. So many memories of good times groovin' to Warmth. Don, a teacher, friend and mentor always invited others to join in. I was tickled when the man in the white cap dubbed me, the Jazz Beetle. Play on my friend. My sincere condolences to family and friends.
Vicki Beaudry-Aspenlieder
Friend
July 19, 2020
Thanks Don for your musical gifts to Santa Cruz for over half a century as a: performer, band leader, teacher, mentor, facilitator, advocate, inspiration and friend to so many. Thank you McCaslin family for supporting, inspiring, and sharing Don with us, we needed and relished his Warmth and we were rejuvenated by his Geezers.
Jeffrey Arlt
Acquaintance
July 19, 2020
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July 19, 2020
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July 19, 2020
He will forever live in my heart ,,RIP
Kathy Beauregard
July 19, 2020
Don was a very important part of my formative jazz years in the mid 70s. I was a regular with the Warmth-cooper House band playing piano. Don would take time to explain jazz chords and progressions to me. He was like a music coach to so many of us who just learning how to fly. I made my living playing piano and still often think of him when I play certain tunes that I learned by reading from his hand written charts that he wrote so clearly and accurately. Thank you Don. See you around the bend......your friend, Glen Rose (residing in Cambodia)
Glen Rose
Coworker
July 18, 2020
From the Cooper House to Severinos, we would leave the gig with smiles and saying how cool it was! It was always a feeling of Warmth. RIP
L. Lane
July 18, 2020
Always loved listening to him play. So many fond memories of his band in front of the Cooper House. He will always have a special place in my heart!❤. My thoughts are with you, Matt, Brooke and Devin!
Elizabeth Charlton
Friend
July 18, 2020
Great inspiration, Don still has my sheet music for WAVE! Used to sit in with Don, we had great conversations about the history of music, he was endless. I will miss Don but so glad I knew him, a very important part of Sanra Cruz History.
Judith Henderson
Friend
July 18, 2020
Don taught all of us who played with him so much about the music. And his generosity, his grace, and love for all of us learning from him was unique, and leaves an enduring mark lasting more than a lifetime. Much Love, compassion, and support to ALL his family at this time.
Paul Contos
Student
July 18, 2020
It is hard to imagine life in Santa Cruz without Don. As a young musician, sitting in with Warmth was a rite of passage. Later, playing with him at the Wharf House was a lot of fun. He was supportive and kind. Thanks Don, you are missed.
John Morris
Friend
July 18, 2020
Don was a loving & generous friend. Because of him, I know more names of jazz greats, & love the chords that Garland played. Say hi to Ralston & "the coach" for me. I know you'll still be reading the classics & playing to your heart's content.
She'aShaunna Egling
Friend
July 18, 2020
The musical world, as we know it, is diminished by the absence of this wonderful man and musician. The Creator has a special place for you in His band, because He knows that you can perform any tune called out...in any key! Play on.
Gene Ervin
Friend
July 17, 2020
So very sad to hear this news about Mr. McCaslin. He and my father were both fellow teachers and also worked together in retirement. Some of my best memories are of visiting home to see my dad and going to Severino's to listen to the Geezers play the music of their youth. And dancing with my dad to the strains of "Starlight" and "Stars Fell on Alabama". I have great memories of "Warmth" at the Cooper House back in my high school days as well.
Mr. McCaslin will be missed by all who knew him. Deepest condolences to his family from ours.
Regina Mooers Ockelmann
July 17, 2020
So much of my childhood was spent listening to him play. He is a vibrant thread that contributed to the tapestry of my life. Condolences to you, his family. He shall be mightily missed.
CHAD SILVA
July 17, 2020
last saw him at the Silver Spur Friday breakfast with family, I was in the crowd bopping during the Cooperhouse/Warmth days,
Sad that he has passed, what a legend. Bye Don
Stephen Rudzinski
Friend
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